A spate of highway robberies

Police say gangs from Uttar Pradesh are active on the Manesar-Palwal section of the KMP Expressway

Sukhdev, a truck driver, travels frequently on the Manesar-Palwal section of the 135-km-long Kundli-Manesar-Palwal (KMP) Expressway while heading towards Central and South India. Though he considers himself lucky to have never encountered criminals on this part of the highway, his helper Haathi Ram claimed to have heard several stories of robberies.

Taking a break after crossing the Pachgaon toll plaza on the highway leading to Uttar Pradesh on Thursday afternoon, the duo recalled how truck drivers were allegedly attacked with stones when passing through a stretch among the Aravalis — locally known as Sohna Ghati — and robbed.

Sukhdev said he has been driving to far-flung areas such as Ahmedabad, Baroda and Hyderabad for years, but most of those highways are well-lit.

“However, it is pitch dark on the KMP except at the tolls,” he added. The two admitted that they avoided travelling on the road at night, as they thought it was “risky”.

The over 50-km Manesar-Palwal section of the highway, operational for more than four years now, has been notorious for crimes.

However, after three armed robberies that took place within a span of a week last month near Palwal toll plaza, security for those travelling on the road passing through six districts of Haryana has been stepped up.

On June 14, two more families were waylaid similarly and robbed of cash and jewellery on the highway in the Hathin police station area. On January 27, a resident of Mathura travelling back from Delhi with his minor nephew was waylaid and robbed and the child was sodomised. An FIR was registered at Hathin police station against unknown persons.

Nehru Singh Meena, manager at the toll collection agency called Path India Limited, recalled that two years ago the company’s cash van was chased during broad daylight on the Manesar-Palwal section for several kilometres and they had to call for reinforcement from another toll. The highway has eleven tolls on the entire 135-long stretch.

He said, the “Sohna Ghati” is a crime-prone area on the Manesar-Palwal section with the road that passing through the mountains and it is dark at night. “Many truck drivers at the toll would tell us how stones were thrown at their vehicles to force them to stop. Many were robbed,” said Mr. Meena. However, he added that no robbery was ever reported on the 80-km Kundli-Manesar section of the highway passing through Gurugram, Jhajjar, Rohtak and Sonipat.

Iron nails on road

In all the three recent cases of robberies on June 20, 23 and 26, the families, travelling in cars, were forced to pull over after the iron nails were strewn on the expressway caused the tyres to burst. Speaking to The Hindu, the victims recalled how five to six youths carrying arms and their faces covered walked up to them from different directions after their cars stopped, held them at gunpoint and fled the spot after robbing them within a few minutes. The robbers told the victims to immediately drive away from the spot threatening to kill them. The modus operandi in the two cases registered at Hathin Police Station has also been similar.

Superintendent of Police, Palwal, Deepak Gahlawat, said that Manesar-Palwal stretch was notorious and while snatching and robberies were committed, most of the cases were solved soon. He said there appeared to be the same gang behind the robberies in the jurisdictions of Sadar and Hathin police stations this year. Mr. Gahlawat added that the gang is from Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh and had carried out similar robberies on the Yamuna Expressway. “Since it is easy to reach KMP from Yamuna Expressway through the Kundli-Ghaziabad-Palwal Expressway, they strike in Haryana as well,” said Mr. Gahlawat. He claimed that the members of the gang were identified.

Though three Police Control Room vehicles patrol the 36-km stretch of the highway passing through Palwal round-the-clock, Mr. Gahlawat said three teams of Crime Units were deployed on the road soon after the June 20 incident at a distance of six to 10 km each and they encountered the robbers on June 26 but no arrests could be made. He said the robbers had become active after the lockdown, and there was no major crime reported for months this year.

Bablu alias Ganja, involved in the robbery and sodomy case of January 27, was, however, killed in an encounter with the Special Task Force of Uttar Pradesh Police on Yamuna Expressway late on July 2.

The police suspect that he along with his gang was involved in the spate of robberies on Manesar-Palwal section of the KMP and his death could put an end to such incidents. Bablu, a resident of Faridabad, carried a cash reward of ₹50,000 on his head and involved in several cases of robbery, including on Yamuna Expressway.

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